Escargot in a Pesto Beurre Blanc

Another Night of, “What’s On The Shelf?”

Hand nothing planned for dinner, so I was forced to take inventory. Inventory of the shelves, cabinets and freezer. I did not search the back of the refrigerator as I figured anything that was hidden back there would be good for another 6 month.

The inventory process serves multiple functions. First you figure out what you’re going to eat, it forces you to be creative and it clears the shelf of stuff you’ll actually use before the expiration date.

PestoIn the freezer were 3 half-pints ball jars if of pesto that I put up in early September. I think this was one of the best batches I’ve made. We have sometimes made a dinner of Pesto on gluten free crackers along with 2 tins of smoked oysters. Wash it down with a nice Prosecco.

This night I knew I would use the pesto. I had some corn and quinoa elbow pasta that had been opened and needed to be used. Although pasta with pesto is pleasing is pedestrian, it’s short of a meal.

Then I saw them, peaking out from behind a large bag of non GMO blue corn chips, 2 cans of escargot. Quick, check the date. Had 7 months to go. Hey, if you are squeamish about eating snails, the recipe that follows will work great with chicken or shrimp.

I’ll try to recreate what I did in this post but I can’t be 100% sure. No cameras were rolling as wasn’t planning anything.

Put a pot of water on to boil. When the water comes to a boil go ahead and cook whatever pasta you’re going to use according to the package directions. Strain the pasta but reserve the pasta liquid. This is when it’s nice to have one of those pasta cookers, tall pot with a colander that fits into the pot. Pull the pasta out and the liquid is left in tact.

While waiting for the water to boil start preparing your sauce.

I finely chopped a medium onion and sautéed them until sweet and golden brown in a sauté pan. With the burner now on high add a ½ cup of dry white wine. I used vermouth. It boiled away and was absorbed quickly. Turning the burner down to medium low I threw in a pad of butter mixing that into the onions. When it was gone I added another Tablespoon. It was taking on the consistency of a beurre blanc. Of course with a beurre blanc you would use shallots. Alas, there was none on the shelf.

EscargotEscargot cry out for garlic butter but there wasn’t an un-sprouted garlic clove in the house. This use to be major faux pas, one does not run out of onions or garlic. But now I’ve discovered garlic powder. Not garlic salt or granulated garlic, this is a fine powder that floats into your sauces and dissolves into any warm liquid or fat. The best I’ve found is the 365 Brand from Whole Foods. Ingredients: organic garlic.

As the butter is slowly being absorbed I sprinkle on of the garlic powder and stir the pan. Then another pad of butter and two cans of escargot. You could easily use one depending on how many snails you want per person.   Cook everything on a medium low heat for about 10 minutes. During this time you can add a ¼ cup of the pasta water to the pan stirring that in. Then add some more butter and a little more pasta water. I did this as I played with the consistency. I had me a pretty nice emulsified sauce going here and it smelled divine.

Careful not to add too much I sprinkled in a small amount of salt. It should taste like, “It needs a little more salt.” But before adding any more salt, I added two heaping tablespoons of the pesto and folded it in with all the ingredients. The aroma was immense. Now you can taste and adjust if it still, “needs a little salt.” I added the pesto last as the parmesan cheese in the pesto will burn on the bottom of the pan.

Now fold in the cooked drained pasta coating it with the sauce. If you have any freshly grated parmesan put it in a ramekin and pass it at the table.

That’s it a gourmet meal from stuff I found laying around.

National Guacamole Day

This delectable dish is so good it’s got 2 Days on the food calendar. 

Chef/Humorist makes Guacamole

Simple fresh ingredients – National Guacamole Day; September 16 & November 14

Guacamole has its roots in Aztec culture as early as 500 B.C., when the native peoples would mash the avocados which were everywhere with a mortal and pestle called a molcajete. They would add tomatoes and salt to make a food accompaniment.

Of course in the last 2500 years or so there have been some variations on this recipe,  there are a million different recipes on line 90% the same some trying to be different for the sake of being different, making it hot for the sake of making it hot. Most of the stuff you add masks the subtle flavor of the avocado. Of course in the south they will use mayonnaise to add fat the fruit that has the most fat of any other. What’s up with that?


The guacamole I’m going to make has simple fresh ingredients inside and a few more on the outside that people can use to customize their experience.

I’m gonna use ripe avocado, some minced onion, some seeded and chopped tomatoes. Since I like a smoky flavor I’m just going to add a couple dashes of chipotle pepper, a dash of smoked paprika and about a tsp of adobo. Sprinkle some fresh coarsely chopped cilantro on top and turn altogether. I don’t like to mush everything, I want to see my ingredients. What you see you can taste.

A lot of recipes call for lime. Lime does help stabilize the color but again it can mask the flavor. If my avocado is not fully ripe I will add some lime as a harder avocado doesn’t have the same flavor. If you’re going to let the sauce sit, and I like to give the flavors a chance to meld, cover with cling wrap pressing the wrap onto the surface of the guac. This keeps the air out. It’s the oxidation that turns the avocado brown. Refrigerate for a couple of hours before you eat it. Remove the wrap and If anything turns brown it’s just going to be the top layer so gently stir the pot and no one will be the wiser.

One variation I do when I need to stretch the product is to incorporated roasted sweet red and green peppers. You can’t use hot peppers to increase volume cause a little bit goes a long way.

Serve the sauce with organic, gluten free non GMO chips and sides of, lime, your favorite hot sauce, and additional salt and finely chopped cilantro. Enjoy with a margarita.

Ciao For Now

Summer Salads

Just Add Lettuce

There are several varieties of lettuce that are looking and tasting great and we’ve been having salads for lunch and dinner. If we got up early enough to eat breakfast we’d probably have a morning salad as well. We can’t give it away fast enough so we’re making complete meals of salads.

Here are two of our favorites.

The Cobb Salad

funny speaker vinny verelli

The Ingredients.

Sharp cheddar, pickled beets, tomatoes, avocado, chicken and very thick bacon. The hard boiled eggs were placed in the jar of pickled beets for an hour to give them the red color. Leave them in for a day and the red goes deeper into the egg whites. We used a Sweet Vidalia Onion dressing.

Just Add Lettuce
Cobb Salad_close_post

Smoked Salmon Salad

Funny Speaker and celebrity Chef Vinny Verelli

The Ingredients. 

Smoked Gouda, hard boiled egg, capers, yellow pepper, pimento from a jar, chopped onion and smoked salmon. We used Annie’s Shiitake Sesame Vinaigrette. All the ingredients can be adjusted to your tastes.

Just Add Lettuce.
SalmonSalad_post

Shrimp Clemenceau

Uncle Bernie came to visit and brought all the ingredients for Shrimp Clemenceau. Simple and extremely tasty.

Shepherd’s Pie – Vinny Style

Part Package, Park Pluck Makes a Great Shepherd’s Pie

Funny Motivational Speaker and Celebrity Chef Vinny Verelli Making a Shepherd’s Pie

One doesn’t think of New York or the mountains of Georgia when it comes to shepherd’s pie. The original recipe comes from the British Isles and you’ll find recipes for English, Irish and Scottish shepherd’s pie. But somewhere in New York there is a chef preparing a dish with tender center cut grass-feed lamb, minced with seasonal vegetables and spices in a Pinot Noir reduction topped with smashed fingerling potatoes, baked in a tandoori oven and then finished off with a pastry torch.

And somewhere in Georgia there’s a mom who took some hamburger helper, mixed in some frozen peas and carrots and spread yesterday’s mashed potatoes on top and served it up with plenty of hot sauce on the side. I don’t care what you call it you can make this dish as complicated or simple as you like and it can be delicious.

The thought of making shepherds pie hadn’t crossed my mind until I saw a seasoning package for shepherd’s pie. Also had some garden potatoes that weren’t getting any fresher.

The shepherd’s pie recipe mix I used was made by Schwartz. Those of you who know me see the irony in this. If using a package mix follow the directions on the individual package and add any of the things you like about from the recipe below. It’s probably just as easy to make it from scratch and you’re less likely to get a paper cut. Plus Schwartz isn’t local for me. Those of you reading this in England may know Schwartz but it’s not a normal brand in the States. Check out their facebook page:

Funny Speaker Vinny Verelli gets help from Schwartz

Part package, park pluck makes a great tasking Shepherd’s Pie

You can put in as many or as little vegetables as you like, season it with anything you like and make it any texture (grated, minced, diced) you like, but as long as you spread mashed potatoes on top and bake it, you got shepherd’s pie.

FOR THE POTATOES
2 pounds peeled, cleaned and cooked any kind of potato you want.
Half stick of butter
Half cup cream or half and half (okay 2% if you have to)
1   cup fresh Parmesan Reggiano cheese or anything from a green box
Salt and pepper to your taste
1  egg yolk optional (add richness to the potatoes nice even browning after baking.
Note: Richness = Cholesterol

Peel the potatoes and cut into ½ cubes. Place in a saucepan of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, decrease the heat to simmer and cook until tender about 10 to 15 minutes.  If a knife stuck into the middle of a potato comes out easily the potatoes are done. If the potato is stuck on the knife, keep cooking.

If you can multitask you can start on the meat mixture while the potatoes are cooking.

Drain the potatoes and let cool for a couple of minutes. Careful handling  hot potatoes. Mash the potatoes the way you like to mash. I like to use a ricer because all the potatoes are rendered the same consistency.  This makes it a lot easier to mash when you start adding the liquid and fat. There’e no need for a hand mixer or blender.

Funny Speaker Vinny Verelli uses a ricer

Add softened butter and mix. Add cream and mix. Add ½ cup of parmesan cheese and mix. If the potatoes look dry add a little more cream. Salt and pepper to taste.  If you’re using egg yolk stir that in until incorporated. Set aside as you prepare the filling.

THE MEAT FILLING

1 – 1 ½  pounds ground lamb or lean ground beef (I used a pound of organic beef)
2 Tbls Olive oil
1 large onion diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons tomato paste
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup red wine
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
1/2 cup fresh or frozen English peas

meat mixture_postIf you’re going to use a season mix, follow the instructions on the package and borrow from this recipe to come up with a flavor you like. Here’s what I would do without the Schwartz with me

Brown meat in a little olive oil unless there’s a lot of fat visible in your meat.  Remove the meat while there’s still some pink. Pour off all but 2 TBL of fat. Add the onion and cook stirring to degrease the pan about 2 minutes.  Add carrots and cook for about 5 minutes. Add garlic cook another 2 minutes. Return the meat to the pan and continue to cook, chopping up the meat some more in the pan.

In a separate sauce pan make the gravy by melting 2 tablespoons of butter and mixi in the flour. Add the tomato paste, chicken broth, wine, Worcestershire, thyme, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened. The longer you cook it the thicker it should get.  Add the gravy to the meat mixture along with the peas. Mix well.

Funny Speaker and Celebrity Chef - Shepherd's Pie

With pramesan cheese in and sprinkled on cheese cooks up brown and crisp

Spread the meat mixture evenly into an 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes, smoothing them out with a rubber spatula. Bring the potatoes all the way to the edge to make a seal. This way the sauce won’t bubble up over the potatoes. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese on top and place in a 350 degree over for about 25 minutes or until the potatoes have a nice browned color. Remove from the oven an let cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

Want to get fancy? You can add a little extra cream and then put the potatoes in a pastry bag. Swirl any type of design over the meat. Cook in the oven as before but finish off under the broiler to char the peaks.

What to go simple? This dish can be made with practically any leftovers you have in the fridge. Heat them up in a pot with a sauce you thicken. Spread with leftover potatoes smashed and spread on top for the “mixture.” Bake it and name it. It’s yours.

If Your Not Having Fun, You’re Doing It wrong.

Potato Latkes for Hanukkah

Hanukkah begins tonight and the shirt I wore 11 days ago to Ilene and Judi’s Latke Party still smells of oil and onion. My good friends have an annual potato latke party and invite everyone they know.  They start frying the traditional Hanukkah delicacy at 6:00 and don’t stop until 10:00 or the potatoes run out.

Ilene bases her recipe on one that has been handed down from her grandmother and mother. I say, “bases” as she takes liberties. Making latkes is like most things you do in the kitchen, it’s a matter of taste and your own flare.  That’s why the recipe following the video is my own variation, not Ilene’s grandmother’s recipe. And yes, my camera also smells like oil and onion.

THE RECIPE

  • 2 pounds potatoes grated
    I use russet potatoes bigger and easier to peel.
  • 1 Medium onion grated
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon chopped chives
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon matzo meal (flour can be used)
  • 1/4 Cup any type vegetable oil (plus or minus)
    Want to go old school, use schmaltz.
  • Sour creme and apple sauce.

PROCESS:
After grating the potatoes squeeze and re-squeeze to get as much of the liquid out as possible. Grate the onion into the potato and squeeze again. Can’t be too dry.

Blend the spices, matzo meal and eggs together until throughly mixed.  Pour into the grated potato and onion and mix with you hands. If the mixture is too damp, you can add additional matzo meal or flour. The batter should be moist not wet. One recipe I saw used 1/2 cup of matzo meal. They weren’t pancakes, they were potato croquettes.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet on medium-high heat.  Form small patties and carefully place them into the skillet pressing them down with your spactula. If your patties are too thick the inside may still be raw when the outside is the perfect golden brown. I say golden brown as I don’t know what to call something that is the brown one shade darker than golden but below the one that says, “burnt.” This burning effect also can occur if your oil is too hot. I always like to cook one pancake up to test the heat of the oil and the seasoning of the potato. It’s easy to adjust the potato mixture. Approximate cook time would be 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Remove latkes from skillet and drain on paper towels.

Although I’ve seen people eat left over potato pancakes right out of the refrigerator they are best right off the paper towel, hot and crisp.  I generally just sprinkle with a little salt. Traditionally they are served with apple sauce and or sour cream.

NOTES:

  • If you’re planning on doubling or tripling this recipe it’s a good idea to grate the potatoes into a bowl of cold water. This will keep the potatoes from oxidizing and discoloring. This will also remove some of the starch. Some people say the more starch the crispier the latke. Dude, it’s physics or something, hot oil + potato = crisp. A starchier potato may stay crispy longer but who’s going to wait?
  • I’ve seen recipes that use olive, canola, corn or peanut oil. With latkes, it’s not about the oil although olive oil will tend to add too much of it’s own flavor. Do use an oil that works well at high temperatures. The oil should come at least half way up the side of the lake, but not to the top. Here in the South the locals tend to deep fry things. Hey, if it will get you to try something new, knock yourself out.
  • Going to a Latke party? Wear something that’s easy to clean.  And if you’re planning on going to another party afterward, bring a change of clothes.
  • I’ve seen recipes that didn’t include matzo meal OR flour. What’s up with that? Putting apple sauce and sour cream on a fried potato mixture doesn’t make it a latke. A pancake by definition has flour or flour substitute. It’s like saying, “Because I served this drink in a cocktail glass, I can call it a martini.”

Posted by Vinny Verelli, humorous motivational speaker and celebrity chef.